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PUC holds annual Math & Science Workshop

Becky St. Clair, February 28, 2018
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“The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it” (Psalms 89:11).

This scripture is the driving concept behind the annual Math Science Workshop invitational for high school students at Pacific Union College. Its driving force? Faculty who look to God as the Creator and the source of all true knowledge. The 2018 Math & Science Workshop took place Sunday, Feb. 25.

“We work hard to make this program interesting and fun,” says professor Aimee Wyrick, chair of the department of biology and coordinator of the workshop, “but our real goal is to make it intellectually stimulating. We want the students to leave here with an enriched understanding of math and science.”

The workshop has been taking place for over 50 years, but has recently been overhauled based on feedback from teachers and students. Events and activities are geared toward high school seniors interested in math and science, and gives them an opportunity to experience their interests at a college level.

“This is a time when our seniors need more information about what college is like and how they are to succeed in that environment,” says Bob Nobuhara, biological and natural sciences teacher at Monterey Bay Academy. “They appreciate the opportunity to ask questions of college students who are actively taking classes and can share what they are presently going through in terms of their workload, social, and physical demands.”

The one-day event begins with a presentation on “What Every STEM Student Should Know,” covering the basics of what students can do to promote their own math and science achievements in college. The majority of the day is spent doing lab activities in biology, physics & engineering, math, and chemistry, which all of the students rotate through for a chance to conduct experiments in each area.

“We have both faculty members and college student teaching assistants in each of the sessions,” explains Wyrick. “It’s important to us that students—high school or college—have access to professors as well as experienced, knowledgeable students in their field.”

In the biology lab, students had the chance to explore animal behavioral response under varying conditions. This was done by measuring the protein in a saline solution injected with rattlesnake venom under both small and large threat.

“Wild animals are in a near-constant state of awareness to avoid a predator or other dangerous situation and this is key to their survival,” explains Dr. Scott Herbert, associate professor of biology, who led the lab. “Much of how animals react is hard-wired and instinctual, but reactions can also be tempered by multiple exposures to the same situation.”

In the physics & engineering lab, students explored the concept of torque by simulating a human arm and subjecting it to three torques.

“Biophysics is a very popular field right now,” explains professor James Robertson, associate professor of physics. “The students in our lab are measuring torques and verifying the net torque is zero—meaning the three torques are in balance, as they should be.”

The math lab combined both mathematics and computer programming, as the two are related. Students participated in the “chaos game,” to explore how simple iterative processes van give rise to complex patterns.

“The idea is to see organization rise out of chaos, much as it does in nature,” explains Dr. Sidney Shields, assistant professor of mathematics, who led the lab. “We utilized algebra and probability skills to simulate a simple process to generate a fractal, then discussed their artistic potential and the basic coding required to generate them.”

While in the chemistry lab, students utilized precision measuring to determine the mass of a copper sample. Rather than using a balance, students explored how to react copper to form a colored solution to analyze via spectroscopy.

“Precision measurement is essential in chemistry,” says Dr. Kent Davis, chair of the department of chemistry. “In this lab we compare two different methods of acquiring the answer, giving the students a chance to use not only flasks and pipets under the fume hoods, but also computers and state-of-the-art lab equipment.”

Just before dinner, high school students met with current PUC students in the midst of their college experience, giving them a chance to find out what it’s like to be a college student and learn what works and what doesn’t. During this time, the high school teachers gather in their own networking event to chat about life in the classroom, discuss best practices, and learn from each other. An evening program of math and science demonstrations finished out the day.

“I always look forward to and have enjoyed watching the expressions on our seniors’ faces as they get their hands-on science and math activities each year,” says Nobuhara. “Many of our seniors have lost their energy and curiosity at this point in the year, and this event helps give them back their spark and interest as they move forward to finish off the year strong.”

The Math Science Workshop is by invitation only, and is open to high school seniors interested in pursuing degrees and careers in math and/or science. To discuss options for obtaining an invitation to the 2019 event, contact Aimee Wyrick at awyrick@puc.edu  or call (707) 965-6635.